Friday, December 21, 2012


I'm glad to report that I am now officially done with my first semester as a Ph.D. student here at Emory University. After a mountain of final folders to grade along with dozens of blue books, as well as two and a half research papers (I say half, because the third class is more of a quick survey type paper than a full-on research paper), I am now ready to begin my winter vacation. Quick thoughts about the program thus far:

1. I love my professors. They are all very knowledgeable in their respective fields of expertise and I have learned so much already from each of them. This semester I had the pleasure of learning under Carl Holladay, Walter Wilson, and Bill Gilders, and while they all have different styles in terms of how to lead a seminar, I thoroughly enjoyed learning from all three of them.
2. I love my classmates. I think one of our program's major strengths is the personality of the students; from my fellow first-year students all the way to fifth-years that I've interacted with thus far, all of them have been quick to lend a helping hand or provide much needed words of encouragement or advice throughout this semester. I don't know if this was an intentional move by the adcoms or not, but the overall "friendliness" of our program from top to bottom cannot be understated. The big plus about this is that, all of them are very sharp students, so I really think we have the best of both worlds: excellent students but also excellent people. 
3. Atlanta is great. Yes, it's a metro-area, so along with that comes crime, traffic, higher living costs, etc., but overall, it's so much better than Durham, NC which sometimes had a "backwoods"-type feel. Don't get me wrong, there are great people in Durham, but we also came across a good number of people whose kind I'd rather never meet again.

Overall, I think I did ok in terms of how to properly manage time and resources as a first-year PhD student thus far. I definitely think I could have done better to form my research topic earlier in the semester, but my professors were all gracious and helped to solidify my angles for each of the topics at hand. Also, I'd like to plan ahead next time and attend SBL next year as we have funding for that. Hopefully I can reconnect with some of my Duke professors and get to hear some good papers and maybe meet some new people. I'm excited to see what the next semester holds, but for now, I have to prepare for the Greek exam and am looking forward to this winter break which comes at a much needed time.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

79 Years Ago

I recently borrowed from the library a newly published book, The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, edited by Isabel Best (she is part of the DBWE team, and herself involved in translations of volumes 8, 12, and 13 of Bonhoeffer's Works). One of the sermons was preached by Bonhoeffer in London on December 17, 1933, exactly 79 years ago. Especially in light of the recent tragedy at Newtown, CT, I thought an excerpt of this sermon would be fitting for this Christmas season.

Bonhoeffer preached on Luke 1:46-55:
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

"My Spirit Rejoices"

The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is also the most passionate, the wildest, and one might almost say the most revolutionary Advent hymn that has ever been sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary as we often see her portrayed in paintings. The Mary who is speaking here is passionate, carried away, proud, enthusiastic. There is none of the sweet, wistful, or even playful tone of many of our Christmas carols, but instead a hard, strong, relentless hymn about the toppling of thrones and the humiliation of the lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. This is the sound of the prophetic women of the Old Testament - Deborah, Judith, Miriam - coming to life in the mouth of Mary. Mary, who was seized by the power of the Holy Spirit, who humbly and obediently lets it be done unto her as the Spirit commands her, who lets the Spirit blow where it wills [John 3:8] - she speaks, by the power of this Spirit, about God's coming into the world, about the Advent of Jesus Christ.

She, of course, knows better than anyone else what it means to wait for Christ's coming. Her waiting is different from that of any other human being. She expects him as his mother. He is closer to her than to anyone else. She knows the secret of his coming, knows about the Spirit, who has a part in it, about the Almighty God, who has performed this miracle. In her own body she is experiencing the wonderful ways of God with humankind: that God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe. God's path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove.

There, where our understanding is outraged, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps its distance - that is exactly where God loves to be. There, though it confounds the understanding of sensible people, thought it irritates our nature and our piety, God wills to be, and none of us can forbid it. Only the humble believe and rejoice that God is so gloriously free, performing miracles where humanity despairs and glorifying that which is lowly and of no account. God "has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant." God in the midst of lowliness - that is the revolutionary, passionate word of Advent.

It begins with Mary herself, the carpenter's wife: as we would say, a poor working man's wife, unknown, not highly regarded by others; yet now, just as she is, unremarkable and lowly in the eyes of others, regarded by God and chosen to be mother of the Savior of the world. She was not chosen because of any human merit, not even for being, as she undoubtedly was, deeply devout, nor even for her humility or any other virtue, but entirely and uniquely because it is God's gracious will to love, to choose, to make great what is lowly, unremarkable, considered to be of little value. Mary, the tough, devout, ordinary working man's wife, living in her Old Testament faith and hoping in her Redeemer, becomes the mother of God. Christ, the poor son of a laborer from the East End of London, Christ is laid in a manger...

God is not ashamed of human lowliness but goes right into the middle of it, chooses someone as instrument, and performs the miracles right there where they are least expected. God draws near to the lowly, loving the lost, the unnoticed, the unremarkable, the excluded, the powerless, and the broken. What people say is lost, God says is found; what people say is "condemned," God says is "saved." What people say No! God says Yes! Where people turn their eyes away in indifference or arrogance, God gazes with a love that glows warmer there than anywhere else. Where people say something is despicable, God calls it blessed. When we come to a point in our lives where we are completely ashamed of ourselves and before God; when we believe that God especially now must be ashamed of us, and when we feel as far away from God as ever in all our lives - that is the moment in which God is closer to us than ever, wanting to break into our lives, wanting us to feel the presence of the holy and to grasp the miracle of God's love, God's nearness and grace...

When God chooses Mary as the instrument, when God decides to come in person into this world, in the manger in Bethlehem, this is not an idyllic family occasion but rather the beginning of a complete reversal, a new ordering of all things on this earth. If we want to be part of this event of Advent and Christmas, we cannot just sit there like a theater audience and enjoy all the lovely pictures. We ourselves will be caught up in this action, this reversal of all things; we will become actors on this stage. For this is a play in which each spectator has a part t o play, and we cannot hold back. What will our role be? Worshipful shepherds bending the knee, or kings bringing gifts? What story is being enacted when Mary becomes the mother of God, when God comes into the world in a lowly manger?

The judgment and redemption of the world - that is what is happening here. For it is the Christ Child in the manger himself who will bring that judgment and redemption. It is he who pushes away the great and mighty of this world, who topples the thrones of the powerful, who humbles the haughty, whose arm exercises power against all who are highly placed and strong, and whose mercy lifts up what was lowly and makes it great and glorious. So we cannot come to this manger in the same was as we would approach this cradle of any other child. Something will happen to each of us who decides to come to Christ's manger. Each of us will have been judged or redeemed before we go away. Each of us will either break down or come to know that God's mercy is turned toward us...

In eight days we will celebrate Christmas, for once really as the festival of Jesus Christ in our world. Before that, there is something we must clear up, something very important in our lives. We need to make clear to ourselves how, from now on, the light of the mangers, we are going to think about what is high and what is low in human life. Not that any of us are powerful persons, even if we would perhaps like to be and don't like to have that said to us. There are never more than a few very powerful people. But there are any more people with small amounts of power, petty power, who put it into play wherever they can and whose one thought is: keep climbing higher! God, however, thinks differently, namely, keep climbing down lower, down among the lowly and the inconspicuous, in self-forgetfulness, in not seeking to be looked at or well regarded or to be the highest. If we go this way, there we will meet God himself. Each of us lives among persons who are the so-called higher-ups and others who are the so-called lowly. Each of us knows someone who is lower in the order of things that we ourselves. Might this Christmas help us learn to see this point in a radically different way, to rethink it entirely, to know that if we want to find the way to God, we have to go, not up tot he heights, but really down tot he depths among the least of all, and that every life only wants to stay up high will come to a fearful end?...

Who among us will celebrate Christmas rightly? Who will finally lay down at the manger all power and honor, all high regard, vanity, arrogance, and self-will? Who will take their place among the lowly and let God alone be high? Who will see the glory of God in the lowliness of the child in the manger? Who will say with Mary: The Lord has looked with favor on my lowliness. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Amen.

Did Jesus Exist?

Over at Unbelievable?, this week's program features one of my teachers from Duke University, Mark Goodacre and a Columbia trained historian, Richard Carrier. The topic is "Did Jesus Exist?" Carrier espouses the "mythicist" view that claims that the historical Jesus never existed and Goodacre the opposite. Seems like an interesting debate and this radio program is usually well-moderated (by the host Justin Brierley), so go check it out.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


When I first started thinking about the possibility of doing Ph.D. work, I had originally planned to apply to schools in the UK for various reasons. It was shorter, being in Europe seemed appealing, and at the time I was much more familiar with scholars from the UK. And in terms of history, how can you beat schools like Cambridge, Oxford, St. Andrews, and Durham, to name a few?

I mean, check out this picture:

Simply amazing. Though after further research and thinking about the viability of that road, I decided against it and haven't looked back since. We ended up in Atlanta and I've been very happy at Emory University, it's really been an amazing place to do work in NT studies.

But to go back, one main reason I did not pursue a UK PhD was a practical one: money. Funding seemed very scarce and I definitely did not want to put that kind of financial pressure on me and my family once I finished. 

But, for those of you out there still dreaming this dream, it appears that at least for one school (the one pictured above), there is some funding available. That school is the University of Durham, check out the info below:

My AHRC-funded project on “The Fourfold Gospel and its Rivals” has aPhD studentship attached that will provide three years worth of homefees (or equivalent) and living expenses in 2013-16. The double focusof the project is on early Christian gospels (canonical andnoncanonical) and on gospel reception in the patristic era, whichshould cater for applicants wishing to work primarily in the NewTestament field or in patristics – although some overlap would belikely. I’d be most grateful if colleagues would draw this opening tothe attention of current or recent students who may be interested inpursuing a PhD in this area. 

The following suggestions illustrate the kind of PhD topic that wouldfit the terms of the project, but many others are equally possible: 
(1) The Protevangelium of James in its relationship to Matthew andLuke, and its later historical and theological significance. 
(2) Patristic views on gospel origins, from Papias to Augustine. 
(3) The relationship between selected “gnostic” gospels (e.g. Mary,Judas, Philip, etc.) and the canonical ones. 
(4) The construction and purpose of either Marcion’s Luke or Tatian’sDiatessaron. 
(5) Revelatory discourse in John 14-16 and selected “gnostic” gospels. 
(6) The role of writing in the transmission of the early Jesustradition: how far back does it go? 
(7) Tradition, reception, and the “historical Jesus”. 
(8) Factors involved in the construction of the four-gospelcollection. 
(9) The hermeneutical significance of the four gospel collection. 
(10) Public responses to publication of newly discovered gospelliterature, c.1890-2012. 

Applicants should have a good first degree in theology/religiousstudies, a completed or a current MA, and experience in the study ofthe Greek New Testament. Applications will be submitted in the normalway (for which see the Durham Department of Theology and Religionwebsite), specifying the AHRC project studentship. A detailed researchproposal will not be essential, although it may be an advantage.Preliminary enquiries may be addressed to Prof Francis Watson( The closing date for applications for thisposition will be Monday, 25 February 2013, and the successfulapplicant will be notified in early March.

Seems like a good opportunity and as it's application season right now, give this a hard look for those of you out there that are interested and good luck!

HT: The Biblical World

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Beverly Gaventa to Baylor

Just saw that Gaventa has been named as the Distinguished Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Baylor University from her current post at Princeton Theological Seminary, joining other strong members of the NT faculty. See the Baylor news press here. Seems like there's been a bit of musical chairs (or at least talks of them) in the biblical studies job market; I wonder who will join the PTS faculty to fill that spot. Good for Baylor, not so good (at least for now) for PTS.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Probs. w/ abbrev.

[Context: I'm in the middle of finishing up two big research papers and staring at countless number of bibliographies brought this to my attention.]

If you're wondering what the title means, it's my way of saying "problems with abbreviations." It must be the careful attention to the little details that my professors here embody (for example, Carl Holladay is an amazingly careful and at the same time, a very charitable reader; he's been a great mentor thus far in many regards) which is affecting me, because I don't think I would have noticed this problem before. This is almost like an exercise in textual-criticism, so if you are into that kind of detail-oriented careful study, I hope you will find this somewhat interesting. Allow me to explain by way of showing you a screenshot of two bibliographies from recent works:

Do you see anything? I hope you do. It may not be a "big deal" I suppose, but I still think it's important to make sure you have the right references. If you still don't know what I'm talking about, I'm referring to how the two works refer to the same publishing house existing in two cities in the same year. So in 1977, Scholars Press existed (at least according to these two bibliographies) in both Missoula, Missouri and Missoula, Montana! Obviously Scholars Press did not exist at two places in the same year. So which one is right? Again, to go back to the analogy of textual-criticism, what is the "more difficult" reading? To put it another way, is it more likely that an author would mistakenly write "MO" for Montana or "MT" for Missouri? Without even having to search for the two cities, I chose the first option, which evidently seems to be the right choice (a search shows that a city called "Missoula" only exists in Montana).

I have not done a thorough search of the bibliographies of all the monographs, articles, etc., that are out there (I'm not even sure if this is possible), but a quick search yields a ton of secondary literature that cite "Missoula, MO: Scholars Press." While one might argue that this is all harmless, all of this is creating an entire tradition of "corruption" in terms of bibliographic integrity. My professors, when it comes to textual-criticism, preach an unyielding level of care and caution (rightly so), as not to introduce an error that further muddies the waters. In the same way, this is a message for anyone out there who is reading a book that is published by Scholars Press: Montana is abbreviated MT not MO.

[Postscript: I guess I could seriously be mistaken and that somehow Scholars Press existed also in Missoula, Missouri (simultaneously as Missoula, Montana), a city that no longer exists. I'm willing to be corrected, so if you know something, let me know.]

HELP: Syriac Font

Dear readers,

Does anyone know how to type Syriac fonts in Mac OSX?  I know Hebrew is easy enough and typing in Syriac was fairly easy to figure out for Windows but I have no idea how to do this on Macs.  Please help!